Amsterdam, to be honest, is not a great food destination like Florence or Paris, and it’s not really even a good food destination like Munich or London. There is very little in the way of native cuisine on offer in the city center, and that’s probably just as well. Amsterdam is loaded with restaurants, however, and many of them are quite good. You can take a culinary trip around the world all on one block, and prices tend to be quite reasonable too. When deciding what to eat in Amsterdam, you’ve got many interesting choices.
What passes for local cuisine:
French fries – They were supposedly invented in nearby Belgium, and here they are called Vlaamse Frites (Flemish fries). There are small shops all over the city, and most are open late into the night. The most famous topping is a rich mayonnaise but most places have at least 4 or 5 other things to choose from, including ketchup for those without much imagination.
>>more information on French fries in Amsterdam
Herring shops – Throughout the city center you’ll encounter little shops selling pickled herrings, mostly to locals. These places are mostly freestanding shacks sitting on bridges in the city center. Some people who try the herrings say they enjoy them, although other people reckon it’s an acquired taste.
Pancake restaurants – There aren’t too many of them, but in most neighborhoods you’ll find a pancake restaurant if you look around. Interestingly, these places are not always open for breakfast, but they stay open all day and sometimes late into the night. The pancakes are like giant crepes and they come served with either sweet or savory toppings. These are often late evening meals for locals, but they are a very popular brunch meal as well.
>>more information on pancake restaurants in Amsterdam
FEBO – This chain of automats is found all over the city. Locals tell you they are terrible, but probably 90% of the people eating there are locals so they obviously don’t all agree. They mainly feature croquettes in coin-operated windows, but they also serve mediocre fries. A big part of their success is probably due to the fact that they are open very late and drunken locals like to stuff themselves with grease before going home.
>>more information on FEBO
Other restaurants to try
Indonesian – The famous rijsttafel dish is a Dutch buffet of mostly Indonesian items and this is the one thing everyone has to try when they visit Amsterdam. If you aren’t quite that hungry, the dozens of Indonesian restaurants also serve things a la carte, but plan for a mini-splurge and get a rijsttafel one evening when you are ready to pig out a bit.
>>more information on rijsttafel
Italian – As with everywhere else in the world, Amsterdam is loaded with pizza joints. The quality is pretty decent, and many places have specials starting at €5 for a basic pizza for one. The pizza-by-the-slice places tend to be average, but there are a couple of good ones in the Red Light District.
Chinese – There is a little Chinatown just east of Dam Square and south of the Red Light District. The places in this little area tend to be better than the ones elsewhere, and prices are pretty good at all of them.
Argentinean steakhouses – For some reason there are a bunch of these in Amsterdam. Part of the magic of Argentina beef is the beef itself, and this is usually local beef prepared in an Argentinean style. They tend to be expensive and disappointing.
Middle Eastern – Many of the ubiquitous French fry shops also serve doner kebabs, souvlakis, gyros etc. Amsterdam has a large population from the Middle East so these are fairly authentic and cheap. Outside of the city center these places are just as common.
Best food neighborhoods
The Leidseplein area is legendary with around 100 restaurants tightly grouped together just off the main square. You can get almost anything you can think of here, and the competition helps keep prices reasonable.
Rembrandtplein also has loads of restaurants. There are some fancy places mixed in here, but most places are small and variety is high.
The Red Light District is not a good restaurant area if you intend to eat sitting down. If you are staying in the RLD do yourself a favor and walk out to Leidseplein at least once.
The places along Damrak as you go from Centraal Station towards Rembrandtplein tend to be pretty bad. The high tourist foot traffic and low repeat business doesn’t provide them with much incentive to make things great.
Beer – Do you like Heineken on tap? I hope so because the city is awash in the stuff. It’s not uncommon for a bar to have 4 taps, all serving Heineken, and nothing else. Some serve Amstel along with the Heineken, but Heineken bought Amstel many years ago and in Amsterdam it’s considered the cheap beer. And by the way, Amstel Light, and any other light beer, is almost impossible to find in Amsterdam.
If you look around a bit you’ll find bars serving beer other than Heineken. White beers from Belgium are popular, particularly in summer. Fosters and even Budweiser are also not hard to find.
Wine – The Dutch aren’t famous for their wine, but most bars do serve a handful of varieties and the prices aren’t bad. If you aren’t a beer person you can get a glass of a decent house red or white for around €3, with the cheaper other vintages starting around €5 a glass.
Hard stuff – Most bars in Amsterdam do serve hard alcohol, but it tends to be very expensive. Finding a rum & coke for €5 is a bargain, and obviously it goes way up from there. Not many places have too many special exotic drinks, but some larger places do have all the stuff they need to make them. The big touristy places in Rembrandtplein will be happy to make you a drink with a clever novelty name for €12 or so.